Friday, May 31, 2019

Film Friday: Casablanca

"A cynical American expatriate struggles to decide whether or not he should help his former lover and her fugitive husband escape French Morocco."

Warner Bros.
1942/1 hour 42 minutes/black and white
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Casablanca is a wartime picture that is so much more: drama, comedy, suspense, romance, bromance... :) It has become so much a part of Americana that it is cliche. "Here's looking at you, kid," and "Play it again, Sam," and other quotes and misquotes are used and misused, spoofed and homaged in everything from a Bugs Bunny cartoon to movies to books and songs. Having only seen Casablanca a few times over the years, I was excited to finally see it on the big screen when it was shown recently at the Alameda Theatre. It was better than I'd recalled and I laughed at the fantastic banter, and felt a whole range of emotions from anger to sadness to joy as the characters interacted and struggled with personal and societal conflicts. The story and characters are enthralling, the cinematography adept, so that not only did I appreciate getting involved in the experience, but I could also see how well-crafted it is. The film deservedly is an Academy Award winner for best picture, director, and screenplay, and is on many best-of Hollywood film lists.

Claude Rains as Captain Renault/via IMDb
The actors are sublime, from Claude Rains as devil-may-care Captain Louis Renault (who is, cringe, also a bit predatory), Dooley Wilson as loyal and wise piano player Sam, to Sidney Greenstreet as a fellow racketeer and club owner in wartime refugee stop Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart is iconic as Rick, the jaded but ultimately noble club owner; Ingrid Bergman is subdued and strong as Ilsa; and Paul Henreid solidly portrays resistance leader Victor Lazlo. I've read that some consider Henreid stiff in the role, but I enjoyed his performance and found it moving in its subtle passion and commitment. Really, the entire cast shines and the dialogue sparks with wit and emotion. Even though I typically don't enjoy "unhappy" endings, the ending of Casablanca is completely satisfying. I left the film with a smile and a new appreciation for this nearly perfect screen gem.

Have you enjoyed Casablanca? Or do you think it's overly praised? Tell me in the comments!

Come back next Friday for a review of Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion. Or, to get it by email, enter your email in the second box on the right. Thanks!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Monday Musings: Classic Movies

Picture via IMDb

I've loved classic movies since I was a little girl. Probably the first I saw were Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s in suburban northern California, those two were shown occasionally on TV, and my aunt and uncle had a very early VHS player as well. By high school, I was watching American Movie Classics (AMC)--when they actually played pre-1960s movies. The first time I asked to stay up past my bedtime was so I could watch Singin' In the Rain for the first time. I devoured classic films, and they were friends and comfort throughout the turbulent teen years, and beyond. Young Sean Connery in Darby O'Gill and the Little People made me swoon as much as seeing Astaire and Rogers dance and Flynn and de Havilland banter. I laughed with Loy and Powell in The Thin Man series, and cried with Maureen O'Hara in How Green Was My Valley.

de Havilland and Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood Photo via IMDb

I also enjoyed going to the movies, but there was something about classic movies that appealed to me--maybe a kind of innocence. And the actors--how I loved Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, Maureen O'Hara, Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain, Gene Tierney, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Frederic March, James Stewart, and Sydney Poitier, to name just some of those who I delighted in watching. I even thought about becoming a film critic, but changed my mind on realizing I'd have to watch all movies, and I can't stomach most horror and thrillers. But give me a good musical or even a Hitchcock, and I'm happy. These days, I watch mostly on DVD (from the library or my small collection), and sometimes am lucky enough to go to the Stanford Theatre, or Alameda Theatre's classic movie nights, to see old movies the way they were meant to be seen--on the big screen! The next two Fridays, I'll post about two movies I had the good fortune to see there: Casablanca and Suspicion. Sometime this summer, I'll review my favorite George Cukor films as well. Hope you'll join in!

Do you like classic movies? Tell me your favorites!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Film Friday: Jeanne Crain Blogathon!

Jeanne Crain Blogathon

Thanks to Christine of Overture Books and Film for this Jeanne Crain Blogathon, and for allowing me to participate! I know I’ll enjoy reading all the different blog posts about Crain and her films. Crain is a favorite (and fellow California girl!), but I hadn’t seen The Model and the Marriage Broker, and if you haven’t seen any other movies starring Crain, I wouldn’t start with this. She gets top billing, but actually doesn’t get all that much screen time (or maybe it just felt that way?). Still, Crain is luminous and likeable, and Thelma Ritter is such fun to watch that I recommend viewing. (Top information is from the DVD case. Most links are to IMDb; photos via IMDb.)

Jeanne Crain in The Model and the Marriage Broker

“Things just can’t go right when a model/client turns the tables on her cynical, meddling marriage broker.”

Starring Jeanne Crain, Scott Brady, and Thelma Ritter
Directed by George Cukor 
1951/ 1 hour, 43 minutes/ black and white

The Model and the Marriage Broker opens with upbeat music and a sweeping cityscape, bringing us to the office of Mae Swasey “Contacts and Contracts/Notary Public.” We soon discover Mrs. Mae Swasey is a straight-talking but compassionate woman—the marriage broker of the title. She says in a sardonic tone to a client, “I can hear the wedding bells already.” Mae is going about a usual sort of day, talking to clients, and visiting them, arranging meetings at her home, or otherwise. One such visit leads to an accidental handbag switch with model Kitty Bennett, played by the ever lovely Jeanne Crain. We don’t meet Kitty until about ten minutes (or more) into the movie, and even then, we only get a partial glimpse in a fabulous hat and dress (costumes in this movie are by Renie, who had a long career--I love Kitty's dresses in this movie). Also in the mix is Matt Hornbeck, radiologist, who becomes unwittingly involved in Mae’s business when some wealthy clients stiff Mae on her fee. Soon, hard-luck Mae is (kindly) meddling in Kitty’s and Matt’s lives, and complications ensue. There are some funny bits, as well as touching ones, and Crain’s presence and moments of thoughtful sadness are a good foil for Ritter’s almost cynical warmth, and candidness. The film lives up to its title, and really is about these two strong women and their relationship. The film ends with Mae, as well, and it’s a bit surprising, in a way, because though Crain gets top billing, The Model and the Marriage Broker is really Ritter’s star turn.

The film, directed by George Cukor (one of my favorite directors), is a solid slice of life comedic drama, but it doesn’t have the sublime pacing and excellent scripting of his other films, like The Women, Pat and Mike, and Adam’s Rib. There are some laugh-out-loud moments with some of Mae’s clients, played most notably by Zero Mostel and Nancy Culp. However, I didn’t connect to Scott Brady’s Matt Hornbeck; I wished that Cukor had discovered Aldo Ray a year early, because this could have been Ray’s breakout role. I feel he would’ve brought more likeability and gleam to the role than Brady, and perhaps had better chemistry with Crain as well, though we really don’t see a lot of the Bennett-Hornbeck romance on-screen. Maybe I was expecting more romance (a la Pat and Mike), when really it’s the tale of these two women, played perfectly by Ritter and Crain. I recommend the film, though perhaps not as a first viewing of the fantastic Jeanne Crain.

Have you seen The Model and the Marriage Broker? What are your thoughts? What’s your favorite Jeanne Crain film?

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